Having Panic Attacks Right Now. What Should I Do? Skip to main content

Identifying the start of a panic attack is the first step in dealing with this distressing experience. Symptoms may manifest as a racing heartbeat, profuse sweating, tremors, or a choking sensation.

Once you notice the typical signs of a panic attack, you can effectively reduce or handle them through a range of strategies involving your mind and body, including relaxation, distraction, and mindfulness.

Simple Strategies for Dealing with Panic Attacks

  • Engage in activities that sweep you off your feet and away from the looming anxiety. They can redirect your focus towards other things. This helps shift your thoughts away from the triggers that cause anxiety.
  • Mindfulness, on the other hand, entails grounding yourself in the present moment to prevent getting caught up in worries about the unknown. It becomes your compass in the storm.
  • Tune in to each of your senses like a sailor navigating the stars, or name the objects around you like breadcrumbs leading you back to the present. This practice counteracts the overwhelming anxiety that often comes with panic attacks.

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Coping with Panic Attacks via the COPE Method

This article explores the different techniques available to stop a panic attack in its tracks. The COPE method is a powerful tool for finding relief and gaining control over the tumultuous waves of panic.

Understanding and utilizing the COPE method can provide relief and empower those afflicted to manage their symptoms effectively.

C – Change Your Catastrophic Thoughts

The “C” in COPE stands for changing catastrophic thoughts. These thoughts are often the fuel that ignites and sustains a panic attack. It causes the individual to experience aggravated symptoms.

By identifying these thoughts and countering them with rational responses, you can diminish their power over your emotional state.

Confronting Catastrophic Thoughts with Reason

Here’s how to directly challenge and change catastrophic thinking:

  • When some such thought crosses your mind: “I’ll die, or I’m having a heart attack.”

Remind yourself, “This is a panic attack, not a medical emergency. It is a temporary surge of anxiety.”

  • When you are haunted by the idea: “I’m losing my mind.”

Assert that “Panic attacks don’t lead to psychosis; it is anxiety, not a loss of sanity.”

  • When you feel: “I will faint.”

Realize that fainting is actually infrequent during panic attacks due to the rise in blood pressure, not a drop.

  • When your mind screams, “I can’t take it anymore.”

Reassure yourself with, “I have control over my actions; panic attacks can’t force me to act recklessly.”

  • When you begin to feel sure that “This will last forever.”

Anchor yourself in the knowledge that panic attacks are short-term and will pass like a storm.

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Educate Yourself and Consult with Health Professionals

Gaining a clear understanding from medical professionals about your health can significantly improve your rational responses.

Knowing your heart health status, for instance, can ease the fear of heart-related catastrophic thoughts during an attack.

O – One Breath at a Time

The Power of Breath

The “O” in COPE emphasizes taking one breath at a time. During the peak of panic, the act of focusing on one’s breathing serves as an anchoring force.

Slowing down the breath has a direct effect on the parasympathetic nervous system, which can reduce the intensity of panic symptoms.

Strategies for Breath Control

Count your breaths to four as you inhale, hold for a count of four, and exhale for four the same way. It is the “4-4-4 breathing technique” method, widely known for its effectiveness.

Recognizing that difficulty in breathing is a temporary symptom of panic can relieve the fear of suffocation.

P – Physical or Sensory Distraction

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Tactile Techniques

Physical or sensory distractions can divert the mind from the whirlwind of panic. Cold stimulation, as research suggests, may reset the nervous system. Actions you can take include:

  • Cold Exposure: The shock of cold from a shower, ice water, or ice cubes can serve to momentarily interrupt the cascade of panic by shocking the senses into a new state of awareness.
  • Exercise: A walk or simple exercises channel the body’s stress response into physical activity. Thus, it provides a healthy outlet for panic

Sensory Engagement

Sensory distractions offer a beneficial diversion and can be practiced with simple, immediate tools:

  • Touch: Feel textures around you to help you stay grounded.
  • Sight: Intently observe your surroundings to draw your mind away from panic.
  • Taste: A strong flavor like that of sour candy shifts attention to the gustatory experience.

E – End-of-Panic Debrief

Reflecting on Future Preparedness

Once a panic attack subsides, engage in a post-panic assessment. Reflect on the strategies you employed and consider their effectiveness. Ask questions such as:

  • Evaluating Thoughts: Were you able to counter negative thoughts effectively?
  • Breath Focus: How did breath control aid in managing the attack?
  • Distraction Methods: What distractions were most effective?

Proactive Measures to Avoid a Panic Attack Episode

Consider what can be altered in your lifestyle to alleviate stress and reduce the possibility of future panic attacks. Evaluate your daily routines, stress management techniques, and overall health strategies.


The COPE method offers a good defense against the unsettling surge of panic attacks, equipping individuals with the tools for immediate and post-event reflection.

It invites a change in perspective, in which each measure is a step toward mastering the chaos of panic.
Understanding and practicing these tactics can diminish the terror associated with panic attacks, making them more manageable and less devastating. With COPE, individuals are equipped with the knowledge and skills to face panic with courage and composure.

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